Ontario’s plan for four mandatory online high school courses is being reduced to two, and will be phased in starting with Grade 9 students next fall, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Thursday.
The issue has been one of many sticking points between teacher unions and the province in the current round of contract negotiations. There are concerns about students’ access to computers and even the internet, especially in smaller communities.
Requiring two such courses for graduation would still be an anomaly in North America, where just a handful of U.S. states either require or encourage teens to enrol in one.
“While work continues on implementing our online learning strategy, I am making an announcement today to provide some clarity,” Lecce said.
“Ontario students will be required to take two online credits to graduate secondary school. Students that begin Grade 12 in the 2023-2024 school year will be the first cohort that are required to complete online courses for graduation, and online courses can begin counting toward students’ graduation requirements beginning in September 2020.”
The two online courses can be any subject the student chooses.
Lecce said the decision to reduce the requirement from four courses to two was made “in response to feedback from teachers, students and families” after the proposal was first unveiled in March, and that “reliable, fast and secure internet services” are on the way for all schools.
“We recognize that students need more time to plan their high school career before an online learning requirement is implemented,” he said.
“To ensure we develop online learning experiences that meet the needs of students and provide them with a world class education, we will be launching a consultation with educators, school boards and students in the coming months to gather feedback.”
Students with special needs will still be able to request exemptions under guidelines to be developed, he added.
The province has said online classes will have an average of 35 students.
It is currently proposing an average of 25 students for in-school classes. That would be up from last year’s average of 22 students, but lower than the government’s original proposal to increase the average to 28.
High school students need 30 credits to graduate. About 5 per cent of Ontario teens, or 60,000 students, currently take online courses.
The Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, which represents 2 million students, recently conducted a survey that found almost 95 per cent oppose the move — in part because the course quality is not as good as in-class, and because students said they didn’t have timely access to help from their online teachers.
The online course requirement was announced in March by previous education minister Lisa Thompson as part of a larger overhaul that she said would modernize education and “embrace technology.”
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Thursday’s announcement came as teacher unions grow increasingly frustrated with collective bargaining talks, with the public elementary and secondary teachers already in strike positions. The elementary teachers plan a work-to-rule, and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is expected to provide an update on Thursday amid a lack of progress at the negotiating table.
The unions have opposed mandatory online courses, saying it will not help student learning.
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